Tags: trump | Moynihan | speech

Trump's Speech Was Utter Nonsense

Image: Trump's Speech Was Utter Nonsense
(Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA via AP Images)

Friday, 29 Apr 2016 01:49 PM Current | Bio | Archive

After Donald Trump's "major" foreign policy address, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, announced that he was very impressed, extolling "the broadness, the vision" of the speech.

The Wall Street Journal said it was "serious." The National Interest's Jacob Heilbrunn opined that the candidate was "more restrained." Clearly we now consider it a wonder of sorts that Trump can spend 40 minutes in front of cameras during which he avoids vulgarity, refrains from bigotry, and reads from a teleprompter.

The speech was, in fact, an embarrassment — a meandering collection of slogans that were mostly pablum: "We must make America strong again"; "Our goal is peace and prosperity."

It did not contain his most absurd and unworkable suggestions — building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; stopping people from sending their own money to relatives in Mexico; banning all Muslims from entering the United States; and a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods. So it was an improvement, I suppose.

The most striking aspect of the speech was its repeated contradictions. "We will spend what we need to rebuild our military," he promised (though Washington already spends more than the next seven countries put together). But almost in the same breath, he talked about pinching pennies because of the crippling national debt. Trump is against humanitarian interventions, but implied that we should have intervened to help embattled Christians in the Middle East.

Trump put America's closest allies on notice that if they didn't pay their fair share on defense, a complaint Washington has made for at least four decades, he would end America's security guarantees to them. "We have no choice," he exclaimed. Then, he assured them that he would be a close and reliable ally. He promised to be "consistent" and yet "unpredictable." Is your head spinning yet?

Mostly Trump's speech was populist pandering masquerading as a strategy. But one theme emerged. Donald Trump is a Jacksonian. In his book "Special Providence," Walter Russell Mead explains that Andrew Jackson represents a distinctly populist style of American thinking that is quite different from the country's other major ideological traditions.

It is anti-immigrant and nativist, economically liberal and populist. In foreign policy, it is largely isolationist but, if and when engaged abroad, militaristic and unilateral. In trade, it is protectionist, and on all matters, deeply suspicious of international alliances and global conventions.

The Jacksonian tradition quite neatly describes Trump's foreign policy, though one has to add to it the element of narcissism that is evident in every aspect of the candidate's worldview. ("I'm the only one — believe me, I know them all — I'm the only one who knows how to fix it.")

Jacksonians are exasperated not by enemies but by our allies. They want to either abandon the world or utterly dominate it. What is deeply exasperating — in fact, intolerable — for them is engaging with the world and working with other countries to achieve incremental progress, manage conflicts and solve problems. Unfortunately, that happens to be what the bulk of foreign policy actually looks like.

If we want to defeat the Islamic State, for example, what is going to make that possible is complicated. It will be a series of military moves that wrest control of its territory, political and economic efforts to help local Sunni forces who can hold the land and provide effective government to the people, and intense diplomatic work with countries in the region to ensure that they support this process rather than disrupt it.

But Trump has a better idea, a secret plan that will zap the group into oblivion. He won't tell them, or us, what it is or when it will happen.

In 1993, the scholar-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote an essay titled, "Defining Deviancy Down." In it, he explained that American society was quietly accepting as normal behavior what would be considered "abnormal by any earlier standard."

Welcome to the Trump campaign, of which his speech on foreign policy was only the most recent example.

Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS," and makes regular appearances on shows such as ABC's "This Week" and NBC's "Meet The Press." He has been an editor at large Time magazine since 2010, and spent 10 years overseeing Newsweek's foreign editions. He is a Washington Post (and internationally syndicated) columnist. He is author of: "The Post-American World." For more of Fareed Zakaria's reports, Go Here Now.

© Washington Post Writers Group.

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Donald Trump's speech was, in fact, an embarrassment — a meandering collection of slogans that were mostly pablum
trump, Moynihan, speech
Friday, 29 Apr 2016 01:49 PM
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